Skeletons in the closet at graveyards

THE high-tech radar equipment used to help identify some 30 unmarked graves at Orange’s first cemetery at Chinamans Bend could also help unlock a host of secrets about the region’s history.

Last week the ground-penetrating radar equipment revealed a number of coffin-shaped disturbances in the levels of soil about 900 millimetres below the surface of the ground in the area on the Mitchell Highway eight kilometres east of Orange.

Orange Historical Society’s Elizabeth Griffin said there’s not only a great deal of mystery surrounding the identity of the bodies buried at Chinamans Bend but there’s also question marks over where the gravestones have gone, and whether some of the grave stones at Orange cemetery actually have bodies buried beneath them.

“Some of the headstones from Chinamans Bend have been relocated, they could be in people’s backyards, or used as pavers and turned upside down so no-one would see the writing on them,” Miss Griffin said.

In some cases gravestones at Orange cemetery suggest the person buried there came from the Chinamans Bend area and may still be buried there and not beneath the headstone bearing their name.

“Chinamans Bend is a significant burial ground,” Miss Griffin said.

“A lot of pioneering families travelled through here on their way to Wellington which was a convict settlement.”

Miss Griffin said she’d like anyone who may know the whereabouts of the gravestones from Chinamans Bend to step forward.

“Records from the time are very vague and a lot of the deaths that are recorded in Bathurst actually occurred in this area.”

Miss Griffin said she’s “delighted” by the work that’s being undertaken to identify the bodies in the burial ground and she expects DNA testing to be used to help in the identification process.

In the future she’d also like to see adequate signage erected at the Chinamans Bend site which is located some 200 metres from the site where it’s believed the first European settlers began living in the Orange district in the 1820s.

A government station with two soldiers, a small barracks and a number of convicts was later established at Fredericks Valley Creek, just north of the cemetery.

“This area, not just the cemetery, really is the birthplace of Orange,” Miss Griffin said.

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